Welcome to Point/Counterpoint, the back and forth sports bar style debate column. This week we are looking at why the NFL’s annual Pro Bowl, an all-star game for the top players not competing in the Super Bowl, is the most turned down invite in sports. This transcript has been lightly edited.
Billy Heyen (Staff Reporter): There is always going to be a problem if the All-Star game for football is an actual football game. Football has probably the highest risk of injury on a per-play basis of any of the major sports, and it is too risky financially and healthily for the players to give their full effort. That is the inherent problem with a football all star game. However I do not think it is all bad. I actually enjoy watching the Pro Bowl, seeing a lot of the gimmicks. It is like you are just playing a street football game, players playing out of position, trick plays, and more. It is disappointing if you tune in to see a hard-hitting matchup. However it is not inherently without entertainment value.
JP O’Hagan (Sports Editor): It may not be without inherent entertainment but it keeps being tweaked to keep it that way. Remember two years ago when they narrowed the goal posts because maybe that would be a change in the NFL? They only added the draft aspect a few years back which has helped but still isn’t great. It’s weird because the MLB and NBA games are ‘go out there and play a game of the best’ versus the best. Sure, the NBA can’t stick to a slam dunk contest they like and MLB changes up the home run derby every few years but these are side shows to the annual entertainment of seeing the best players play the other best players. I feel like the Pro Bowl lacks this but I can’t put my finger on it.
Billy: It seems like every year, there are tons of “replacement players,” or players who were not picked by the fans, who play in the Pro Bowl. If I am not mistaken, this year had the highest number of replacements yet. However, it makes some sense. What is the incentive for all the veterans who get selected to play in this game? Almost nothing. They get their recognition as popular or talented, and younger players get to represent the sport in general. I don’t enjoy it as much as the MLB or NBA all star games, but that is because it is just more possible to portray those sports accurately in an all star setting. As I established, football can just not be played the same. I just am against all the cries to abolish the Pro Bowl; it’s a good time if you take it for what it is.
JP: But why be content with it? The NFL knows that it is overshadowed by the rest of the playoffs and if they can’t get the top players to go why have it? That is the point of an All-Star game. It isn’t accessible to a large enough portion of the NFL fan base to make a large event (weekend) out of it and the crazy rules make it look like a Madden mini-game rather than an actual game. I say cut it. No one will care. You can still name people to All-Star nods, do it like they do in college All-Conference teams; those players don’t all get together and play each other, it gives the honor without worrying if the best players will even show and it makes sure no one gets hurt if that is the issue.
Billy: I enjoy watching it; you just have to acknowledge that it isn’t exactly the same. I mean I wouldn’t care if they wanted to put the Pro Bowlers in a flag football game. The best part of most of the guys in this game is their explosiveness. The quarterbacks have great arms. Let’s just enjoy it being wide open and seeing them put all their skills on display
JP: That’s fine and dandy but I think that there is obviously room to make it better. The NFL prides itself on doing things bigger and better than any other pro-league. While if they actually do could be debated in an entirely different point/counterpoint, really it comes down to the NFL not doing anything to fundamentally improve the game. I have my ideas and I’m sure every other fan as a few of their own. I guess I would say if that is all the NFL wants the game to be that is fine, but I won’t be tuning in next year, just like I didn’t tune in this year. I used to watch the game annually, now it just seems like there are much better ways to spend my time.
Billy: I do think they are going to be attempting changes in the next few years to make it more appealing. I am not sure what those things are. I just don’t think it is bad as it is right now. For entertainment value, I have no problem seeing Richard Sherman playing offense, Odell Beckham playing defense. It’s the kind of thing you could only see here. Sure, maybe some fans don’t like the lack of authenticity, but it is more about the crazy stuff than anything else anyways. I think it can be improved, but I don’t think it is as broken as everyone thinks it is.
JP: It is an interesting concept, but if that is what they want to do why not play that up? I don’t think the NFL cares about the game because they don’t promote it the way the other sports do. I mean sure, the playoffs and the Super Bowl advertise themselves. Heck, the Super Bowl doesn’t have to be promoted by itself since it is already done by all the sponsors and other companies looking to cash in. The Pro Bowl needs to either be celebrated and fixed or be finished and forgotten.